Monday, October 28, 2013


I have now made my 100th post the blog! 

Preliminary Thoughts about Force on Force

Dice of many sizes.
Over the last week or two, I've been reading the Force on Force rules.  I've not yet fully processed all their nuances, but there are certain elements that have relevance as I rewrite my own rules set. 

Force on Force combines two key design decisions. First, it places its greatest emphasis on the skill levels of the units involved.  Second, it largely ignores differences in equipment, and all the micromanagement that entails.

The actual game mechanics are based on poly-sided dice.  Every unit's skill (and a few other factors like morale) are rated by dice type: D4 troops are crappy, D6 troops are okay, D10 troops are awseome, etc.  When one unit fires on another, the number of models in a unit largely determines the number of dice thrown, plus, if they have a support weapon they throw a few more.  The defending unit throws a number of dice based on their unit size, plus cover and other factors.  The dice each side throws are compared: higher rolls win.  So a more skilled unit has a better chance of winning the toss because its dice will have more sides. 

It's a pretty simple mechanic, especially to someone used to 40k or FoW, each of which lovingly describe the different weapon options availabel to squads, their relative characteristics and so forth.  I do wonder if it might get too same, too fast, and fail to hold player interest.  (In my experience, players love micromanaging list options.)  I'm also not a fan of anything but 6-siders - a standard 6-sider produces an adequate range of numbers of most purposes, if used creatively.

Also of interest: how the game handles suppression.  In Force on Force, a unit is suppressed if it suffers designated Suppression fire of a given number of incoming dice.  The unit must then roll to avoid being Suppressed.  So there's no counting hits (as in Flames of War) or accumulating pin markers (like Bolt Action).  Again, I've been considering a mechanic more like this for my own game, but I'm not sure how to account for the great diffences in weapons and toughness among sci-fi units.  (Does an armored Space Ogre care if it's shot at by .22s?  Or only .50 cals and greater?  How does it feel about mortars? etc.)

Sunday, October 20, 2013

A 40k Campaign

My FLGS is planning a friendly 40k campaign.  The manager wanted a map-based, easy to manage, campaign that was friendly to beginning players.  He asked me to write something, and here's what I came up with.


Design Goals
  • The campaign organizer should be free to assign any player into a match with any other player on any turn.  
  • The campaign should not require extensive record-keeping by either players or organizer.
  • The campaign should make only minor modifications to the basic 40k rules.

The campaign uses two major tools: a map/scoreboard in the game shop and a series of printed cards.  

The Map

The map shows the battlefield areas as a central band, divided into war zones  It depicts the Imperial Hive City Antiochus and its surrounding countryside.  There are several Battlezones such as the Hive Center, the Wharfs, the Marshland, the Farmlands, the Wastelands, etc.  Above and below these warzones are two big areas labeled Reserves - one for Order, and one for Disorder.  A whiteboard keeps track of the current player’s win-loss-draw ratios and the overall win-loss-draw for Order and Disorder.

Every player has a push-pin or magnet representing their army’s current location. At the start of the the campaign, everyone’s pin is in their side’s Reserves.

The map does not actually control who can fight who, and territories are not retained from turn to turn.  It merely provides a visual guide to the match-ups and looks cool.

Players, Teams and Points

The players must declare their primary army and their ally (if any) at the start of the campaign.  They may not change their army, but they can change their list from week to week, if they want.  All games are played at 1850 points.  [Or whatever.]

The players are on two teams: “Order” and “Disorder.” Order consists of the Imperial forces, Eldar and Tau.  Disorder is everyone else.  If there are too many Order or Disorder players, we can organize the teams some other way:  The Imperium vs. Everybody Else, for example.

This is a casual campaign, so players are discouraged from bringing killer lists.  Unfortunately, there is simple way to prevent abuse with a mathematical formula, comp guidelines, etc.  If a player’s list generates lots of complaints or otherwise seems abusive, the organizer should issue a gentle reminder or warning.  If that doesn’t work, the offending player may be put on probation or expelled from the campaign.

The Game Turn
Each turn (presumably, each week), the organizer schedules the players into matches.  Each match-up is assigned to a Battlezone.  Move the two player’s push-pin into the relevant sector on the map.  

Ideally, the organizer will match forces of Order against forces of Disorder, but if this is not possible or desirable, use the “friendly fire” rule.  Randomly determine one of the players. For this match only, that player is counted as being on the other team.  So if two Order players fight, one of them fights for Disorder this round.  They are assumed to have turned traitor or accidentally gotten into a conflict with their allies in a way that hampers their side’s efforts. (This “friendly fire rule” only affects the way team scores are calculated -- the “traitor” still gets credit for the battle on his personal win-loss-draw score.)

Battlezones and Terrain

For each battle zone, there are suggested terrain pieces.  The game board must at least one (and preferably more) of each of the suggested terrain pieces.  If at all possible, the total number of pieces from the required list should outnumber the total number of pieces of other types.  The board can have other pieces too -- the wastelands might have a small ruin among its hills. The method for choosing terrain pieces and deploying them should be mutually-agreeable to both players.

There are 6 Battlezones, enough to support 12 players.  If the organizer needs more, they can be duplicated.

  1. The Hive Spire: The heights of Antiochus Hive contains the palaces of the nobility, now ruined, surrounded by burned gardens and broken monuments to imperial glory.  Suggested Terrain: Ruins, Monuments.
  2. The Hive Center. The main portions of the Hive are now twisted corridors of broken habs, shattered manufactories and commercia.  Nevertheless, the defenders still hold firm in scattered bastions and hotly-contested ruins. Suggested Terrain: Ruins, Bunkers.
  3. The Wharfs: Much of Antiochus Hive’s strategic importance derives from its key location at the mouth of the Leonias River.  Its western flank is dominated by the ruins of docks and warehouses.  Suggested Terrain: Ruins and River.
  4. The Marshland: Below Antiochus Hive, the Leonias river spreads beyond the main channel.  The massive delta filled with poisoned creatures and a vast jungle ruined by industrial pollution has now become a place of ambush and counterattack among the various armies assaulting or defending the Hive.  Suggested Terrain: Forests and Rivers.
  5. The Farmlands:  Most of the arable land of the Northern Continent is given over to farmland in support of the Hive.  Such territory makes excellent tank country, and has seen several massive armored battles. Suggested Terrain: Hills and open areas (fields).
  6. The Wastelands: Antochius Hive’s pollution has rendered vast tracks of surrounding territory uninhabitable wasteland.  In peacetime, only outlaws and nomads cross its stony expanses, but in war, armies find it a direct approach to more desirable country.  Suggested Terrian: Hills.

Resource Cards
For each match, the organizer draws three resource cards.  These cards represent the resources of the battlezone over which the players are fighting.  At the end of the match, the winner picks one card.  The loser gets the other two.  If there is a draw, each player gets a random card, and the remaining one is discarded.

Each card grants a small special ability, roughly equivalent to the bonus from a Warlord Trait or a Mysterious Objective.  The benefit should either grant a moderately-powerful benefit for one turn for one unit, or should grant a minor benefit all game to one unit.

Players may play their cards in future games.  They may play as many cards as they wish.  Once they play a card, it is discarded.  They must inform opponents of which cards they have available.

So, players that lose games will accumulate a small but useful handicap in their future games.  Players that win games will gain a smaller benefit, but will have more choice over what benefit they receive.

The Cards

There are 34 cards.  If the organizer needs more cards, he can print additional sets.

  1. The Stench of Heresy: Imperial Guard troops defending the Commercia Ciborum quickly learned that the tingling of their skin and the faint odor of rancid milk presaged an attack by chaos slave-zealots. Play at the end of your deployment phase. Designate one friendly unit immediately.  That unit gains Acute Senses until the end of the game.
  2. Medallion Puritas: The aides of Inquisitor Hexenshlag distributed these small ceramite disks inscribed with images of the Emperor to certain mid and low-level Imperial Commanders.   Play at the end of your deployment phase. Designate one friendly character immediately.  That character gains Adamantium Will until the end of the game.
  3. Incendiary Wrath: Sternguard Space Marines of the Astral Falchion Chapter deployed a non-standard magnesium-coated bolt-round that released a blinding flash-cloud upon impact.  Play at the beginning of your shooting phase.  Designate one friendly unit immediately.  That friendly unit’s weapons have the Blind special rule for this shooting phase.
  4. Thudd Rounds: The Basilisks of the 23rd Mechanicus Maniple used advanced ground-disruptive shells to collapse enemy-held bastions along the eastern ridge.   Play at the beginning of your shooting phase.  Designate one friendly unit immediately.  That friendly unit’s weapons have the Concussive special rule for this shooting phase.
  5. Street Fighters.  Cut off and alone in the Garment Manufactorum, the 214th Antiochian milita for months survived as a fearsome unit of partisans.  Play at the end of your deployment phase. Designate one friendly unit immediately.  That unit gains Counter Attack until the end of the game.
  6. Icons Fanaticii.  In the second week of mobilization, the Ministorum called the Hive’s lay confraternities to arms as militia.  During the street-fighting, these units assaulted the Emperor’s foes with makeshift weapons of all sorts.   Play at the end of your deployment phase. Designate one friendly unit immediately.  That unit gains Crusader until the end of the game.
  7. Fearsome Aspect:  Nothing could stay the rout on the Curtain Wall, when Night Lords Raptors dropped onto the parapet wrapped in the bloody skins of slain Imperial defenders.  Play at the end of your deployment phase. Designate one friendly unit immediately.  That unit gains Fear until the end of the game.
  8. Stimm Packs:  The manufactories of the Medicae court ceased production of common analgesics during the conflict, instead producing large quantities of chem boosters.  Play at the end of your deployment phase. Designate one friendly unit immediately.  That unit gains Feel No Pain (6+) until the end of the game.
  9. Xenos Swiftness.  Imperial scouts sometimes reported encountering Xenos creatures scurrying across walls and ceilings with unnatural swiftness.  Such rumormongers were swiftly executed for reasons of morale.   Play at the end of your deployment phase.  Designate one friendly unit immediately.  That friendly unit has the Fleet special rule for the remainder of your turn.
  10. Anger of Khorne.  Lord High Marshall Edipe perished when red-clad, bronze-studded cultists of  Khorne overturned his command Baneblade and tore him limb from limb.  Play at the beginning of your assault phase.  Designate one friendly unit immediately.  That friendly unit has the Furious Charge special rule until the end of your turn.
  11. Preachers Incarmine.  In the darkest days of the siege, hatred and wrath drove the defenders to survive and spite their foes.  Play at the beginning of your assault phase.  Designate one friendly unit immediately.  That friendly unit has the Hatred special rule until the end of your turn.
  12. EMP Grenades.  During the Reclusian push, Scitarii of the the Mechanicus utilized electrical grenades to great effect against the chaos Hellbrute walkers.  Play at the beginning of your assault phase.  Designate one friendly unit immediately.  That friendly unit gains Haywire grenades until the end of your turn.
  13. Strike from the Shadows: The third Ravenguard Shadow Company contested the Hoplicon Highlands throughout the siege, effectively preventing the assembled Orks from utilizing the province’s resources.  Play at the beginning of any assault phase.  Designate one friendly unit immediately.  That friendly unit gains the Hit and Run special rule until the end of the turn.
  14. Explosive Rounds.  The Antiochian High Guard utilized their grenade launchers to great effect during the defense of the Hive Spire.  Play at the beginning of your shooting phase.  Designate one friendly unit immediately.  That friendly unit’s weapons gain the Ignores Cover special rule until the end of your phase.
  15. Infiltration Tactics: The Lowland 3rd “Swamp Devils” excelled at raiding traitor positions in the swamplands, thrice destroying the Word Bearers’ command barges.  Play at the end of your deployment phase. Designate one friendly unit immediately.  That unit gains the Infiltrate special rule.
  16. Bring it down!  Imperial gunners quickly learned to target the largest of the demonic creatures assailing their walls during the infamous Noon of Darkness.  Play at the beginning of your movement phase.  Designate one friendly character immediately.  That character gains the Monster Hunter special rule until the end of your turn.
  17. Stealth Leader.  The Xenos creature known only as the “Big Shadow” decimated the defenders of the Wharf district, but was never reliably sighted or identified.  Play at the end of your deployment phase. Designate one friendly Character immediately.  That character gains Move through Cover until the end of the game.
  18. My Gaze, Inescapable.  The Raven Guard's advanced optics enabled them to operate a night without difficulty.  Play at the end of your deployment phase. Designate one friendly Character immediately.  That character gains Night Fighting until the end of the game.
  19. The Long Way Around.  The Night Lords surprised Imperial defenders by navigating the impassable cliffs of the Cenopath district and slaughtering the Mourning Guard stationed upon the heights. Play at the end of your deployment phase. Designate one friendly unit immediately.  That unit gains the Outflank special rule until the end of the game.
  20. Ratling Hotshot Rounds.  The Ratling Cuilinary Hussars would supply illegally-modified rounds to whomever would pay their price in lard.  Play at the beginning of your Shooting Phase.  Designate one friendly unit immediately.  That friendly unit’s weapons gain the Pinning special rule until the end of your phase.
  21. Ratling Special Sauce.  Snipers of the Ratling Culinary Hussars were seen dipping their rounds in a large cauldron before setting out on missions. Play at the beginning of any of phase.  Designate one friendly unit immediately.  That friendly unit’s weapons gain the Poisoned special rule until the end of the phase.
  22. Last Stand.  Lothar Magnus, Sergeant of the Astral Falchions, and his three companions held the Mourning Gate for three hours against the blood zealots.  Their last stand amid a mound of corpses has become legend.  Play at the beginning of any assault phase.  Designate one friendly character immediately.  That character gains the Rampage special rule until the end of the turn.
  23. Mobile Support. The Mechanicus Maniple mounted their most potent weapons upon tracked chassis.  Play at the beginning of your shooting phase.  Designate one friendly unit immediately.  That friendly unit’s gains the Relentless special rule until the end of your phase.
  24. Monofilament Edging.  The Xeons mercenaries employed by the besiegers utilized razor-sharp triangular projectiles.  Play at the beginning of your shooting phase.  Designate one friendly unit immediately.  That friendly unit’s gains the Rending special rule until the end of your phase.
  25. Rapid Redeployment.  The Word Bearers surprised Imperial defenders when they engaged the cities Wharf district, despite reliable reports that they had committed elsewhere.  Play at the end of your deployment phase. Designate one friendly unit immediately.  That unit gains the Outflank special rule until the end of the game.
  26. Bigger Chainswords.  12 Officers and other Ranks of the Lowland 3rd “Swamp Devils” were summarily executed for their use of captured enemy chain-axes.  Play at the beginning of any of phase.  Designate one friendly unit immediately.  That friendly unit’s weapons gain the Shred special rule until the end of the phase.
  27. Advanced Targeting.  The Hydra batteries on Mourning hill accounted for 134 enemy air kills before being silenced.  Play at the beginning of your shooting phase.  Designate one friendly unit immediately.  That friendly unit’s weapons gains the Skyfire special rule until the end of the phase.
  28. Psy-rounds.  These inquisitorial weapons proved especially effective against traitor Legion opponents.  Play at the beginning of your shooting phase.  Designate one friendly unit immediately.  That friendly unit’s weapons gains the Soul Blaze special rule until the end of the phase.
  29. Flexible Command and Control.  The Antiochian High Gaurd received better training and had more officers than standard units.   Play at the beginning of your shooting phase.  Designate one friendly unit immediately.  That friendly unit’s weapons gains the Split Fire special rule until the end of your phase.
  30. In the Shadows, Inviolate.  At least three patrols had already passed the Cliff Wall before the Night Lords made their ambush.  Play at the beginning of any of phase.  Designate one friendly unit immediately.  That friendly unit gains the Shrouded special rule until the end of the phase.
  31. Darkness, My Ally.  The Lowland 3rd “Swamp Devils” made extensive use of natural camouflage.   Play at the beginning of any of phase.  Designate one friendly unit immediately.  That friendly unit gains the Stealth special rule until the end of the phase.
  32. Only in Death does Duty End. The Mourning Guard perished to the last man defending the tombs of the highborn.  Play at the beginning of any turn.  Designate one friendly unit immediately.  That friendly unit’s weapons gains the Stubborn special rule until the end of the turn.
  33. Munitorium Excess: In their disastrous rout from the West Bastion, Antiochian militia forces abandoned large stocks of las-rounds and bolter-shells, most of which found their way into enemy hands. Play at the beginning of your shooting phase.  Designate one friendly unit immediately.  That friendly unit’s weapons count as Twin-Linked until the end of the phase.
  34. Death to the Machine.  Raven Guard tactical squads familiarized themselves with all marks of enemy vehicles and how to disable them.  Play at the beginning of your shooting phase.  Designate one friendly unit immediately.  That friendly unit has the Tank Hunter special rule until the end of the phase

The End of Turns

At the end of the match, the organizer moves the losing players tokens from the battlezone back to Reserves. He then updates the win-lose-draw ratio for each player and for the teams on the whiteboard.

End of Campaign
The campaign lasts for five weeks. [Or whatever.] At the end of the campaign, the player with the best win-loss-draw ratio is recognized, the team with the highest win-loss-draw ratio is recognized, and the best score on each team is recognized.


I'm getting ready to revise my rules set, as part of the Tier One of my master plan.  My rules are pretty similar to Flames of War -- not surprising, given that I've played a lot of FoW.  I've decided to step back, think about other ways of doing things, and see what else is out there. 

This week I'm reading Force on Force and Tomorrow's War, Ambush Alley Game's modern and sci-fi rules sets.  Both are very similar.  I'll write up my thoughts shortly.  In the meantime, check out Alex Perez's review over at Outpost Zero.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

An Excellent Post

I really enjoyed this post over at Frontline Gaming.  It's an excellent explanation of fire and maneuver tactics, and how they are (and aren't) translated into wargaming:


The comments thread is pretty cool too. 

My Master Plan

Here is my plan for the future of my as-yet-unnamed game. I envision a system based around internet community feedback. Community forums and sharing will drive game balance and development, with the game itself having several layers (tiers) of customization and openness. 

Tier One

Tier One will be an open, unthemed, sandbox environment, consisting of the core game rules (stripped of all setting-specific elements) and a few generic gaming aids.  

At this tier, the game rules will be completely open, and their text available for modification and tinkering by anyone who cares to do so.  So I intend to revise and release the core gaming rules through some sort of open license, such as creative commons or OGL.  If people like my rules, they can do whatever they want with them, modifying them with house rules, creating spin-off games, or anything else. 

I also intend to provide a framework of generic aids to help potential organizers, game masters or player groups up whatever scenarios and forces they wish.  I intend to produce a spreadsheet into which players can enter their desired unit characteristics.  The spreadsheet will then provide a suggested point cost.  (This will just be a get-you-started estimate. I fully expect that for more competitive environments, players and gaming groups will need to adjust these points.)  I will also provide a set of generic Doctrines players can choose from for their forces.

Tier one is a pure sandbox game.  Players will have to take responsibility for designing forces, lists and scenarios; but it will also allow players to do, well, pretty much anything.  Want your Ogres to fight space Nazis riding dragons?  Crank out some simple lists and throw your models on the table for an afternoon game.

Tier Two

Tier Two will be an open, themed sandbox environment, in which units are tested for suitability for bring-and-battle games.  Unlike Tier One, Tier Two aims for a specific universe. At Tier Two, anyone can design and suggest units for the setting, and other people can try them out and offer feedback. 

My themed universe will be the Mars setting which I've been developing, but there could be any number of others: a World War II game, a Space Ninja Pony game, whatever.  Each Tier Two could have its own forums, community and so forth.

Tier two is still an open sandbox game, but it is one in which there is more structure for player groups and game masters, and a selection of units available.

Tier Three

Tier Three will be a closed, themed, bring-and-battle environment.  Tier Three will have official rules and official army lists, each of which I will update on a regular basis.  Tier Three should have a narrower range of units, Doctrines, and army lists, which will be carefully controlled and adjusted based on tournament feedback to provide an balanced gaming experience. 

My Tier Three setting will be my Mars game. (There could be other Tier Three settings, too, run by whomever wants to put the energy into maintaining one.) Unlike Tiers One or Two, I hope for my Tier Three Mars Setting to become an actual commercial product someday.  (Probably in the form of a website subscription to the Tier Three e-books.)

 I envision a close interaction between Tiers Two and Three for any setting, with the community suggesting and testing units in Tier Two for introduction into Tier Three.

How it Would Work
So (for example) let's take my Mars setting as an example. 

At Tier One, two players might meet in their basement.  Maybe one players has a Martian army, and the other has some figures from another space game.  Maybe some left over Spaced Morons, or some Orcs, or whatever.  Both players work to figure out the game stats for their models, and put together two lists that they think will make a fun scenario.  Then they play.  Perhaps the next week, they will decide the Orcs were too powerful, and change their rules a bit.  Or maybe they think Dinosaurs would be more fun, and bring some rubber T-Rex's to the game.

At Tier Two, both players have an army themed for my Mars setting.  They go to the Mars forum and download unit stats and points someone has created.  Then they adjust them a bit for the scenario they want to play, and have at it.  Maybe they decide they think the Free Martians are a bit too powerful, so they post their results and suggestions to the forum.

At Tier Three, two players come to a tournament at the local game store.  They have never met each other, but they both have an army for the Mars setting, made from the Tier Three army lists, which they downloaded from the Mars web site. They each play each other, using the official rules.  If one army consistently seems overpowered in the tournament scene, based on feedback, I may nerf or tweak the official army lists every few months.

Tiers Two and Three can mix.  Maybe one player has an Colonial infantry army they created from the "official" army book at Tier Three, but the other thinks it would be awesome to field a Brute cavalry squadron riding dinosaurs.  The dino-cav player stats out his army, runs it through the suggested point spreadsheet, and comes up with a cost.  Then the two players try the armies out against each other.  Based on their experiences, they post the results to the Mars Tier Two forum.  Lots of people think dino-cavalry sounds cool, and they fiddle with the points values and rules.  Eventually, enough people have played the dino-cavalry that it gets the stamp of approval, and I include it in the next revision of the Tier Three army book.

The Immediate Future

I will continue this blog, as a way of announcing and tracking my game's development, but I will begin to add other website features.  I will revise the core game rules and look at different licensing options to release them to the public.  The website will need a place to distribute and share files: first the core game rules, then early drafts of the army books.   Eventually, I will need a forum, as a place for players to share ideas. 

All of this is wishful thinking if nobody actually plays the game.  So, to interest people, I will put together a demo-game based on my own model collections which I can tote around to various conventions.  I will try to make batreps and videos of games played.  I will provide tools for people to play games with whatever models of their own they have.

Maybe it'll work, maybe it won't, but it will be an interesting experiment.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Game Balance: A Comparative Analysis


I played in a local Warhammer 40k tournament the other weekend, and ended up facing the least fun list I've encountered in a while. (It consisted of, I think, four flying Necron croissants and three Heldrakes; oh, plus Abaddon and Typhus and some cultist buddies.)  Anyway, it stomped my face hard, and in a most unpleasant way.  If you don't have enough AA for your opponent in 6th ed. 40k, you basically can't fight back. I've puppy-stomped a few opponents in my time too, and not always because I've played better, either. Sometimes their list just had no chance against my list.

Now, I've played a lot of games, winning and losing, of 40k, WFB, Flames of War, and many others, and this sort of helpless mismatch seems to characterize Games Workshop games a lot more than Flames of War.  

So, I've been thinking: what makes the two games different?  How do they control how many and what sorts of models their players can field? And how do they attempt to make certain that, once lists are selected, the players face a relatively even match?  And how do I want to use or avoid their relative techniques in my own game?

Point Values and Bring and Battle

Both Flames of War and Warhammer 40k are "bring and battle" games.  Players pick their forces from a list of available options.  Each choice costs a certain number of points, and two armies at the same point value are supposed to be at least reasonably fair match-ups.

Ideally, I suppose, players of equal skill, fighting at equal point values, should have a 50/50 chance of winning.  But, of course, this is never so: point values are an abstraction, and, of course, units have strengths and weaknesses.  In practice, list selection can grant a significant advantage to one player: the only question is how significant and at which point the potential disparities become so farcical one can only fault the game designers.

The Woes of Warhammer 40k

Warhammer 40k has three main methods of balancing and controlling its army lists, which are fine in principle, but which seem in practice to have serious flaws.

The first, of course, consists of point values. Bigger, tougher, more powerful models cost more points.  Strangely, Warhammer 40k does not seem to have a usefully consistent scale.  The history of the game is filled with examples of undercosted or overcosted units -- of which the current offenders like croissants and Heldrakes are only the latest examples. Now in fairness, 40k is incredibly complex, so it's not surprising some units turn out to be better or worse than designers anticipated -- or for the practical value of a unit to change as army lists or rules enter and leave the game's meta-enviornment.  But even so, the Games Workshop designers seem at times massively negligent.  Even if they can't anticipate errors, they could at least fix them.

The force organization chart constitutes 40k's second major game balancing mechanism. One can only take a fixed maximum number of units of a particular type, regardless of cost.  You can only take two characters, six troops, or three of anything else. A player cannot load up with an infinite number of Chapter Masters, Heldrakes, Whirlwinds or whatever.  So even if a unit is massively effective, a player can only take so many of them. Presumably, to the great relief of his opponents.

Thirdly, a player needs to have a spread of unit and weapon types in their army in order to counter different types of potential opponent.  Every decent 40k army needs to be able to counter armor, heavy infantry, massed light infantry, flying things, and monsters.  So it can't (in theory) load up too much on one type of weapon or troop without creating vulnerable gap in its own capabilities. In practice, however, one can easily defeat an opponent's "all-comers" army by loading up so much of a particular goody that the enemy cannot hope to stop you.  (The 7 aircraft army is a good example of such a list.)   

There a few other, more subtle, balancing factors at work in Warhammer 40k as well. Some unit types have intrinsic strengths or weaknesses that enhance or limit their viability.  Only troops, for example, can hold objectives.  Vehicles, conversely, can never contest objectives (barring an unusual scenario) and are vulnerable to being charged. This sort of soft balancing among unit types isn't a big element of 40k compared to Flames of War, but it is present.

For casual games, between players with limited collections or a sense of self-restraint, 40k's system of point values and force org works pretty well.  In a highly competitive environment, however, between players with large collections (or copious wallets), it can produce some really grotesque mismatches, in which player skill on the table can become a minimal factor. (At least till one Hell-list encounters another.)  

40k is what it's always been: a platoon-sized infantry skirmish game.  Add too many tanks, airplanes, transports, or monsters, and the whole thing just falls apart.

The Hidden Strengths of Flames of War

Structurally, Flames of War imposes a system of limits on players that's almost identical to Warhammer 40k's.  The players must choose their units from a list, where each unit has a point value, and their total selection of duplicate or rare units is constrained.  Lists need to balance anti-armor and anti-infantry capability.

Flames of War has made many of the same kinds of errors as Warhammer 40k over the years.  Some units are over or undercosted.  (Remember the old Brummbar?  Or the first version of the EW British Cruiser list?)  There have also been some problems with the force org charts -- notably, lists that limit the number of tanks or anti-tank options have a tendency to be uncompetitive.

Overall, though, these sorts of errors have not thrown the whole game as far out of kilter as they have in Warhammer 40k. Why?

Because there is a robust balance between unit types baked into Flames of War's very game mechanics. In Flames of War, there are essentially three types of units: infantry, tanks, and guns.
Infantry and tanks are the most important of these two, and they each contain situational counters against each other.  Infantry are resilient (bordering on the indestructible) when stationary, Dug-in, and Gone to Ground.  They are excellent in area terrain.  Tanks by contrast, are awesome moving and in the open, but are vulnerable in terrain or when overwhelmed in an assault.  No how matter awesome your tank, it is still vulnerable in terrain.  No matter how skilled or equipped your infantry, they don't like being machine-gunned in the face.  The counter to tanks is infantry and the counter to infantry is tanks.  So their relative effectiveness really depends on deployment, terrain, and movement -- factors on the table top and under player control.  (We could also call it playing the game, yeah?)

Flames of War's unit balance is in fact so well thought out that you can play pretty much any type of force imaginable without breaking the game.  Want to run nothing but tanks?  You can do that.  Want to run nothing but King Tigers?  You can do that.  Want to run all FV infantry?  You can do that.  Want to run an army made up mostly of 88s?  Hell, you can do that too.  These sorts of extreme lists  are not only possible, they actually aren't even all that good -- compared to the old mainstays of average infantry and medium tanks, Flames of War super units seem to suck a bit.  Some of that it points values.  But some of it lies in the nature of the game mechanics.


List design is one of the things that makes a bring-and-battle wargame fun.  It's fun to buy new models, try them out in new combinations, and build different forces that reflect your play style, aesthetic preferences, or just plain whim.  But the very flexibility inherent in a bring and battle game is also its potential downfall.   If a game system permits too extreme a mismatch of forces, the game will cease to be very enjoyable, except perhaps as an exercise in competive list design.

Where and how does one find a balance?

 It seems to me that points values alone cannot ensure a fun, reasonably balanced game.  Neither can a strict limit on force selections, although both of these will help immensely.  I think the key is to have appropriate point values alongside a game mechanic that produces mutual, situational advantages and disadvantages for different sorts of units. If one type of unit is going to have clear game-mechanical advantages, then that unit type should be subject to a hard limit such as a force org chart.  Indeed, it's probably a good idea to limit multiples of just about everything except core troops.

 My game is mostly about infantry: so I want to be sure the basic game mechanical "grammar" of troops attacking and defending remains sensitive to player choice and to terrain.  The natural counter to infantry will be support weapons, which should behave differently on the attack and on the defense.  Tanks, armored vehicles and big monsters will have a natural advantage, and so should be limited in number.  They should be an interesting secondary element, not the focus of the game.

That's the plan.  The hard part will be executing it.